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March 23, 2005

Set to Song

Dear Lyricists:

Phil Shapiro has set themail to music. Even if you haven’t already been humming along while you read themail, you’ll enjoy Phil’s folk singer riff on your messages, and after you hear it you’ll never think of these biweekly mailings the same way again. See Phil’s first message below for the address of the clip.

I wonder if Phil would like to set the mayor’s DC budget proposal to music next. As the chorus, I’d suggest: “Whatever you want, we’ll fund it; whatever you dream of, we’ll fund it. We have pots of money, and surpluses last forever, honey.”

Meanwhile, Ted Knutson is asking whether anyone is interested in a get-together of themail members. Many, many years ago, in the dark ages of Internet history when themail was still called DCStory, there were a few informal meetings, usually at a bar on an early weekday evening. If you’re interested in reviving them, let me know.

Gary Imhoff


Who Watches the Watchers
Paul Wilson,

Earlier this month, this article appeared in the City Paper ( “On Feb. 10, Capitol Hill resident William McLain was walking toward his home at the intersection of 1st Street and North Carolina Avenue SE when he saw a white van from Unity Construction and Management Services and a crew of about a half-dozen workers on the sidewalk. They had uncovered a manhole. One of the workers told McLain that they had a contract to set up cameras throughout Capitol Hill for the U.S. Capitol Police and that they were presently installing the preliminary cables for four 360-degree cameras at the intersection in front of McLain’s home.”

Then, lo and behold, just this week a surveillance camera appeared at the end of our block, mounted to a light pole at the intersection of 3rd and C Streets, Southeast. This particular corner is 100 percent residential, and is not located on what I would call major thoroughfares. It does not a rate a traffic signal, for example. It is a block, and a long one at that, to the nearest Congressional facilities. So, my question is, who watches the watchers? Are these camera feeds monitored 24/7/365? Are recordings made? If so, how long are the recordings retained? Not surprisingly the City Paper did not find the USCP Chief Terry Gainer terribly forthcoming about the details of this project. Mr. Gainer seems to have learned well from his tenure with the MPD. The MPD secretly monitored downtown areas, until the story broke in the Wall Street Journal in 2002, as reporter Arthur Delaney points out in the story.

The Capitol Police are largely unaccountable, certainly to the Capitol Hill residents who will now be under the gaze of these cameras. They are nominally accountable to the Congress and their direct overseers, the Senate and House administration committees. Even so, some congress members felt inadequately consulted about the spate of street closures last August. Now there’s a surveillance incursion into a DC neighborhood, without notification or consultation with the elected city government, much less the affected residents.


Traffic Follies
Paul Penniman,

The intersection of Connecticut Avenue and Van Ness Street has historically been one of the most traveled in the entire DC metro area -- the seventh most, including highway intersections, according to a Post article many years ago. Incredibly, northbound traffic now must wait before proceeding through that intersection while dedicated left-turn signals allow left turns from both directions but no straight-ahead movement. This would be fine if there were lanes dedicated for left turns only. But invariably, in both directions, at least one of the first four cars in the left lane does not desire to turn left, thus screwing up the whole idea. The result is that traffic is no better southbound than it was, and northbound it is a disaster, backed up for many blocks for much of the day.

Could this be the work of the same lame thinkers who have installed clocks at the intersections? I would be in favor of these clocks if they weren’t in amber, thus giving you the impression from afar that you need to hustle. And during rush hour, they will click down to some number greater than 0, like 10, and suddenly flip to 0. While we’re flogging the traffic guys, could someone explain the point of preventing left turns from River onto Fessenden? All it means is people will turn onto Ellicott instead. Does someone important live on Fessenden?


The Office of Planning’s Model for Inclusionary Zoning
Marilyn Simon,

Ground was recently broken at the Washington Clinic, which the Office of Planning cites as its first “inclusionary zoning” case, a planned unit development with five luxury condominiums to be sold as “affordable housing.” The Office of Planning stated that affordable housing in future condominium PUDs should be modeled after the plan for the Washington Clinic site. In that project, several one-bedroom and den condominiums, each with a market value in excess of $600,000, will be sold to lottery winners for less than $170,000 each. The qualifying income is $51,750 for a family of three and $57,500 for a family of four. Qualifying families of four can afford to rent existing apartments for $1,437 a month. In fact, over 30 percent of the households near the site had incomes of $50,000 or less. The lottery-winner that purchases one of these $600,000 condominiums will pay approximately $1,437 each month for the mortgage, taxes and condo fee.

The lottery winner only needs to qualify when applying. For example, a third-year law student could qualify to purchase one of the affordable units, and land a high-paying job the following year. There also is no realistic means for enforcing other conditions, so that the affordable units might easily be rented out at market rates, shared with other rent-paying residents, or sold for a substantial profit. The Office of Planning adopted this model, even though it was fully aware of all these shortcomings. In exchange for providing this amenity, the developer was granted bonus height and density, allowing a building more than twice the size contemplated with existing zoning. With the bonus height and density, an additional 50 condominiums, totaling $75 million, can be sold. The bonus density is certain to have an impact on the neighborhood. There are serious questions about whether the infrastructure can support the increased density, as well as questions about the impact of bonus densities on the scale and character of our neighborhoods.

While the District has a goal of increasing the supply of affordable housing, the Office of Planning’s policy of providing subsidized luxury condominiums to a few households that can afford existing apartments does nothing to advance this goal.


To the Rescue
Susan Ousley, slousley att ae oh ell dott comm

We’ve heard many lovely promises from Blue Cross Blue Shield that they will be more friendly to the community where they make their profit. Here’s one thing they could change: right now, pay DC ambulances as participating providers — right now, FEMS ambulances are paid as nonparticipating providers.


Penalty Phase
Dorothy Brizill,

The DC Board of Elections and Ethics has completed its hearing on the penalty phase of the Video Lottery Terminal Initiative of 2004 (the slots initiative) petition circulation drive. The penalty hearing filled seven full days of hearings from March 10 through 21. All the evidence and testimony has been submitted, and the Board will make its decision in due course. The slots proponents had essentially four arguments: 1) that the BOEE had never found that there were any violations of the law in circulating the petitions, and therefore it can assess no fine; 2) that even if there were violations, nothing in the law makes an initiative committee responsible for circulating petitions, so the committee can’t be fined; 3) that even if the committee were responsible for circulating petitions, it fulfilled that responsibility by hiring a contractor to circulate the petitions, and therefore it isn’t responsible if any violations occurred; and 4) that the only people whom the Board can hold responsible for any violations are the individual DC residents who falsely signed as circulators on petitions they didn’t circulate, or who had forged signatures on their petitions, and so forth.

There were two interesting revelations during the course of the hearings. The first was that Pedro Alfonso, the DC businessman who served as chairman of the slots initiative committee and who presented himself as an investor in the project, was actually being paid $8,000 a month for his services and -- unknown to his fellow committee members — was going to get a $1,000,000 “success fee” if the initiative passed and another $2,000,000 success fee if the casino got licensed. The second was that the committee members have an indemnification agreement with Robert Newell, the funder of the initiative, who paid the $100,000 penalty they were assessed by the BOEE last month, and who will pay any penalty they will be assessed as a result of this hearing.

The same challengers who participated in last summer’s hearings, DCWatch and Ronald Drake, also participated in the penalty hearings, and they disputed all of those arguments, and argued for the initiative committee’s responsibility to ensure that its petition was circulated in a way that was consistent with DC law. Links to the legal papers that were filed in the proceedings are available at


New Song: “Do You Get themail on Wednesdays and Sundays?”
Phil Shapiro,

The menagerie of characters who show up in themail each week are worth writing a song about. When I asked my imagination for help finding someone to write a song, by imagination huffed, “Just do it yourself. Write and record the song yourself.” Okay then, here is a QuickTime video of the music video, “Do You Get themail on Wednesdays and Sundays?”

The duration of the song is about 20 minutes. The lyrics are posted on the above blog, too. The file size is 153 megabytes. In order of appearance, here is who shows up in the song: Gary Imhoff, Larry Wissleberry, Annie McCormick, Ed Barron, Brad Hills, Sergeant Gwendolyn Mapp, Sergeant Ray Danieli, Laurie Collins, Lea Adams, Sara Cormeny, David Sobelsohn, Dorothy Brizill, Gabe Goldberg, Dorinda White, Brie Hensold, Malcolm Wiseman, Timothy Cooper, Kristen Barden, Lois Kirkpatrick, Erich Martel, Joe Libertelli, Charles Ogletree, Evelyn Goodwin, Joan Eisenstodt, Wendy Blair, Ralph Blessing, Alexander M. Padro, Peter McGee, Stephen Hosmer, Kathryn M. Sinzinger, Phil Greene, Rae Kelley, Phil Shapiro, Barbara Conn, Scott Pomeroy, Susie Cambria, Art Spitzer, Charles Stevenson.

This music video was created with friends of mine in the Washington Apple Pi computer club ( and Fairfax Public Access ( We used the free iMovie video software that comes bundled with Macintosh computers. The budget for this music video was $4. (The price of a blank mini DV tape.) Fair warning: any submissions you send to may be incorporated as lyrics in my next song. <grin> That said, now go ahead and write some great lyrics.


Blogging on Urban Places
Richard Layman,

In three blog entries in the March archive of my blog,, “Denver’s Delightful LoDo Area — A Lesson for Stadium District Development;” “Baseball, Hot Dogs, Apple Pie and Transit! San Francisco’s PacBell Stadium;” and “Unforced Error: DC Officials Bobble the Ball When it Comes to Transit, Urban Design and the New Stadium,” I discuss transit and urban design issues about the new baseball stadium that were brought to my attention by Ed Delaney in a previous post in themail, as well as some responses that I received after my post in themail about the design of the new stadium. Comments encouraged.


To the Post’s Ombudsman
Bonnie J. Cain,

Who provided the Post with the cartoon ran in “Close to Home” in Sunday’s Post? It is clearly associated with the Chester Finn letter. It didn’t support Finn’s comments. He wasn’t talking about facilities or parking tickets. The cartoon perpetuates the image of the District as run by clown-like incompetents. Finn’s letter is saying that DCPS and the District is moving ahead with revising its academic standards (a good thing according to Finn). However, some unnamed “usual suspects” — outsiders, one has to assume, because there is universal support for the new standards within the DC public school community — are poised to stop the standards. In Finn’s letter DCPS is doing right, yet in the cartoon they are shown as failing.

DCPS is moving ahead with its academics standards independently and at the speed it sees as necessary. Isn’t that we want? If so, why isn’t the Post praising DCPS instead of implying that they are again failing? Further, why is Finn permitted to get away with not naming the usual suspects? If Finn supplied the cartoon, I would say your editors are complicit in a “framing” exercise executed by Finn to maintain the image of an incompetent DCPS. If Finn didn’t supply the cartoon, what is the point? Why pose failure next to success? The cartoon will be remembered longer than the efforts of DCPS to establish new standards. Who wins by making DCPS look yet again incompetent?


Why Won’t the Washington Post Accept My E-mail?
Austin Kelly, austin at

In November I tried submitting a question to a Post online forum. The E-mail was rejected without stating a reason (although the RFC’s that govern the net state that a reason should be provided and list a large number of codes for particular rejection reasons). The header indicated that I should contact postmaster for an explanation. But E-mail to postmaster also bounced (with a note saying to contact postmaster). I’ve pasted the rejections into online submission forms, tried asking Rob Pegoraro in an online forum, and even forwarded the E-mails to the ombudsman (from a different domain) who promised to forward my question to tech support (that was in February). So far no explanation as to why the Post won’t accept my E-mail. For what it’s worth, I’ve always controlled the domain, it has never sent spam, and my E-mail provider is not in any spam blacklists nor has it cropped up in any online spam discussions, as per Google groups.

############### Citizen Journalism Site Launched
Phil Shapiro,

Do you know the way I’ve been sharing info about the growing momentum of the citizen journalism movement? A huge step forward took place on Monday of this week when the new web site launched. This web site will host for free -- and forever -- any text, audio, animations or video submitted by the public. Although citizen journalism is the central focus, the site is intended as a central repository for digital storytelling, freely distributable music, documentaries, and any other kind of digital creative expression. Some recognized names in the technology field are behind The site seems to have gotten swamped with visitors, so if you can’t reach it, try again in a day or two.

I wonder who will be the first people to upload content to this site? Are there any folks out there who might upload a civic-themed music video, for instance? While New York and Los Angeles have a few creative people, DC far outclasses them with the quality of creative talent we have here in town. My bet is that the first civic-themed music video is going to come from DC. We’re going to leave New York and LA in the digital dust. We outclass them.


Real Property Taxes and Miscalculations
Austin Kelly, austin at

In the last issue [themail, March 20] Matt Forman correctly notes the difference between an assessment cap and a reduction in tax rates. With a reduction in rates, people with slowly appreciating property see tax reductions, and vice versa, while caps limit everyone’s increase. But he calls the fall in tax for some people a “windfall” and says he prefers caps. To each his own, but I’d rather see the person with the huge appreciation “windfall” who now owns a much more valuable house pay a little more, and the person with the slight appreciation “windfall” get a reduction, with the goal of keeping total collections about even. Makes sense to me that the people with the more valuable houses pay more, regardless of whether the market overall is booming or busting.


Property Tax Equity Proposal
Constance Maravell, a.k.a. Zinnia,

How would the rest of you “wealthy” people feel if the increases in property tax payments were capped at 5 percent but, when you sold your house, you would have to pay back the difference between what you actually paid and what you would have paid if you had paid the full assessed value? When I attended the property tax hearings on Friday, I learned that the abatement for poor seniors had to be paid back when the house was sold. One group testifying pointed out that this was not fair in light of the fact that others never had to pay back the differential.

The more I think about that issue, the more I think we should pay back the city when we realize the stored value in our houses. We are paying the increased assessments at a time when we actually have some money with which to pay the assessment. That sort of arrangement does not give anyone an unfair advantage. It gives current home owners some measure of security about the rate of increases in their operating expenses. Finally it gives the city a lot of extra revenue. What do the rest of you think about this sort of an arrangement?


Parking While Away
James Treworgy,

[Re: Rae Kelley, “Long-Term Parking,” themail, March 20] Leave your keys with a neighbor and ask them to move your car the night before the street cleaning day. When they go away next time, you’ll be glad to do it for them. Works great for pet feeding/walking, too.


Long-Term Parking
Jeffrey A. Menzer,

The District provides free long-term parking in neighborhoods throughout the city: find a street which isn’t zoned for residential parking. For example, try the 200 Block of D Street, SE. Generally, the street is filled with cars with out of state registrations which use the free long-term parking so they can avoid registering their cars in the District (or perhaps they’ve gone on an extended trip), or for those daily parkers (a.k.a. commuters) lucky enough to find a space on the block not taken by these long-termers. Previously, I had some luck with DPW in ticketing these cars as abandoned because they sat for weeks (and some even months) without any movement. But these enforcement efforts have seemed to ceased.


An Uninvited Guest
Dorcas C. Dessaso,

Gary: My answer to the last line of your article [themail, March 20, “How likely is he to face us and ask for our votes again?”]: I dare him to ask me!



Anyone for a themail Get-Together?
Ted Knutson,

Anyone interested in having a meeting of themail readers/contributors/whatever-we’re-called-in-unison?


National Building Museum Events, March 26, 28
Brie Hensold,

Both events at the National Building Museum, 401 F Street, NW, Judiciary Square stop, Metro Red Line.

Saturday, March 26, 1:00-4:00 p.m. Origami City: construct an origami city by making and decorating obelisks, skyscrapers, and box houses. Coinciding with National Cherry Blossom Festival, this program celebrates the traditional art of paper-folding (origami) and the art of creating buildings. $2 per project. All ages. Drop-in program.

Monday, March 28, 6:30-8:00 p.m. With its design of the Freedom Tower at the former World Trade Center site, the architecture firm Skidmore, Owings & Merrill (SOM) is pioneering the use of new software technology that enables architects to visualize their astonishing creations. Carl Galioto, FAIA, partner-in-charge of SOM’s Technical Group, will explain and illustrate how a new version of building information modeling facilitates the design of this challenging project. He will also discuss SOM’s long-term interest in this technology. This lecture complements the exhibition Tools of the Imagination. $12 museum members; $17 nonmembers; $10 students. Registration required.


Jack Valenti, March 28
Lois Kirkpatrick,

The Fairfax County Public Library invites you to a free presentation by Jack Valenti, former head of the Motion Picture Association of America. The free event takes place Monday, March 28, at 7:30 p.m. at the Alden Theater of the McLean Community Center, located at 1234 Ingleside Avenue in McLean. Tickets will be available at the venue one hour before the event; limit two tickets per person. For directions or other information, call 703-790-0123. The event is cosponsored by the Alden Theater; funding provided by the Fairfax County Public Library Foundation, Inc.


Shaping the Future of the Hill East Waterfront, April 6
Lisa Alfred,

ANC 6B and the HillEast Waterfront Action Network will hold a community forum for public/private development on Reservation 13 on April 6, 7:00 p.m. (doors open at 6:30 p.m.) at Payne Elementary School, C Street, SE, between 14th and 15th Streets. Panel: Andrew Altman, Chief Executive of the Anacostia Waterfront Development Corporation; a representative from the General Services Administration (GSA) (invited), and Beth Purcell, Hill East resident; moderated by Ken Jarboe, ANC 6B.


Sweet Dreams, April 12
Brad Hills,

Washington Storytellers Theater presents the SpeakEasy Open Mic, Sweet Dreams: Stories about Sleep, at HR-57 Center for the Preservation of Jazz and Blues, 1610 14th Street, NW (between Corcoran & Q Streets), on Tuesday, April 12, 8:00 p.m. Ticket price $5 (corkage: $3 per person); purchase at the door (doors open at 7:30 p.m.). Street parking, Metro Red Line (Dupont) or Green Line (U Street/Cardoza). On the first of each month, we will begin taking sign-ups for that month’s Open Mic. Call the WST Office to reserve a space.

For most of us, sleep takes up fully one-third of our lives, yet what do we really know about it? The stories we tell of our lives are nothing compared to the stories we dream of our lives. We forget more stories upon awakening each morning than we live through in a lifetime. Join us at this month’s SpeakEasy as we delve into the worlds that unfold beneath our eyelids every night with guest host Kelly Cresap and our featured storytellers Noa Baum and Amy Saidman.



Need Old Photos of Mount Pleasant
Mara Cherkasky,

Do you have old photos of your Mount Pleasant home (inside or out) or any aspects of everyday life in Mount Pleasant?

Research is underway for a Heritage Trail that will tell the story of Mount Pleasant on a series of signs placed at various points around the neighborhood. Each of the signs will include some text, plus photos and other graphics. For example, a sign at Bancroft Elementary School would explain why the school was built and when, and maybe show a class photo from the 1930s and one from the 1960s, or one of kids entering the building. But we haven’t found those photos yet! Could you possibly have one in your old albums?

The Mount Pleasant Heritage Trail Committee, which is working with Historic Mount Pleasant on this project, would greatly appreciate any help you can provide. If you have any photos — or information — that you think might be of interest to us, please call Mara Cherkasky at 986-0858 or E-mail We’re also interviewing people who’ve lived in the neighborhood for a long time, or used to live in the neighborhood. If you fit that description or know someone who does, please let me know.



Mitch Wander,

I have 35 bags (each 50 lbs.) of Mr. Granite Step 1 Base Layer -- Rock Solid Foundation System left over from a project. It’s a type of gravel that is not decorative and would be used as a foundation layer for a project.

I’m willing to accept any reasonable cash offer for them as long as you can load them into your truck and haul them away. Please only make an offer if you can pick up the entire load (all 35 bags). They are located in a garage less than one mile from Georgetown Hospital. Please provide a phone number with your offer.



eBay Coaching Offered
Phil Shapiro,

Are you itching to try your hand at selling things on eBay? This past month I’ve been coaching a couple of people on how eBay works and I’m finding the coaching a lot of fun. It’s not difficult selling stuff on eBay, but it is helpful if someone shows you the ropes. I charge $25 for a 2-hour “get me started” on eBay workshop at your home. The workshop includes an orientation to Picasa 2 (free photo software for Windows) or iPhoto (free photo software for Macs.)



Appliance Repair
Edna Small,

Does anyone have experience with an appliance-repair person who can troubleshoot rather than just replacing lots of parts? I have a four-year old GE gas stove with electric igniters. The stovetop now requires a match , and neither the oven nor broiler works. GE tells me each is separate, and an electrician has ruled out a house electrical problem. Seems to me unlikely that three igniters would need replacing at once, especially in a relatively new stove. There may be grease somewhere. Would love to find an honest individual troubleshooter, rather than a big company. Suggestions welcome.


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